By Myprotein Writer | Chris Tack
Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist
Imagine, it is 1669 and you are a part of a group of intrepid explorers following the renowned missionary, João Felipe Bettendorf searching and exploring the vast, dark and wet Amazon basin.
Your team comes across an indigenous tribe of Indians called the Sateré-Mawé, who demonstrate fantastic and unbelievable feats of endurance and physical ability after consuming bowls of a stimulating beverage they say came from the trees (1).
The tribe elders pull down the yellowish-brown stem which they call guarana, uarana or varana (“vine“) and pluck the ripe reddish fruits. They mix the flesh and brown seeds into a pulp to drink, and claim that it is used by their people fight fever, pain and cramps (2-3). They also claim this drink is the source of their tribes physical prowess- a true source of health and mystical energy (4-5).
Congratulations- you have now discovered the magic of Guarana.
What Is Guarana?
Following this 1669 discovery, the western consumption of guarana did not grow until the 18th and 19th centuries (6). However, since this time the myths and legends regarding it’s health properties have grown exponentially.
From a shrub used as an herbal medicine in a remote tribes people, guarana developed into a widely used South American supplement to assist with long voyages; and subsequently into a component of energy drinks worldwide (7).
Cultivated exclusively in Brazil, guarana now exists as the byword for a whole range of branded soft drink beverages which are exported across the planet! In fact in Brazil sales exceed that of any cola flavoured soft drink (1).
So… What exactly is it?
To take its full scientific name, Paullinia cupana or Paullinia sorbilis (4, 8-9), the active ingredient of this shrub is an extract which is taken from the seeds of the fruit. It can be found in multiple consumable forms including soft drinks, tablets, gum and a paste.
Approximately 70% of the guarana produced is used in the energy drink industry, with the remaining transferred to the production of supplement forms or used as a raw material in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
What does Guarana do?
Due to its indigenous origins a variety of benefits have been linked with this super shrub- including boosting of one’s libido (10).
However, the success of production, exporting and consumption of guarana can be explained in one word: caffeine.
You see there is a reason why in Brazil one of the popular names for this supplement is “Zoom” (11-12). The seeds from which the extract is taken consist of between 2.3% (13) and (a massive) 7.8% (14) caffeine!
Whilst there is some variety in caffeine content, to put it in perspective, the average concentration would be greater than both tea and coffee (15). In fact the amount of caffeine in guarana is twice the amount found in Arabica coffee beans (1).
✓ These levels of high caffeine potency lend guarana it’s significant stimulant effects. Such a high concentration of caffeine modifies hormonal action (norepinephrine and epinephrine release) and inhibits central adenosine receptors. Thus, leading to gross central nervous system excitation.
Energy Drinks & Guarana
Energy drinks come in all concoctions and forms, some of which get a boost from added guarana. It is well established that the success and efficiency of energy drinks comes most predominantly from their caffeine content (16-17), which of course can be supplied by this supplement.
✓ Energy drinks (containing caffeine) show various benefits for performance including delaying training fatigue (18); enhancing muscle strength (18) and increasing muscle endurance (19).
There is also evidence that caffeine positively stimulates our resting energy expenditure, meaning we burn more calories at rest (20-22). This augmentation of metabolism is caused by stimulation of a cycle which boosts levels of adrenalin (21, 23).
Evidence suggests that relatively small doses of caffeine in energy drinks of 2-3mg/ kg of bodyweight are effective at enhancing performance (24). This is an amount of caffeine easily supplied by guarana making it a perfect constituent of energy drink beverages which are sold on the premise of being ergogenic aids.
Guarana & Health Benefits
The variety and number of health benefits ascribed to guarana is quite astounding. Alongside a boost to your sex drive, studies suggest that the breadth of guarana’s blessings include:
✓ Treatment of diarrhoea (11)
✓ Protection against malaria (12)
✓ Appetite suppressant (25)
✓ Reduction in blood lipids (e.g. Cholesterol and triglycerides) (26)
Beyond this guarana has a role as an anti-oxidant, an anti-carcinogenic, an anti-microbial and influences even more realms of health. We will examine some of these areas in further detail.
Guarana & Weight Loss Studies
Safety & Side Effects
There have been very genuine concerns regarding energy drinks which are plied with excessive amounts of caffeine. Such concerns are not abated by evidence collected by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) of at least 23 deaths related to high-caffeine beverage consumption as of November 2012 (49-50). Between 2007 and 2011 emergency room visits increased two fold to 20,783 related to issues involving energy drink consumption (51).
However, as a sole compound guarana has been regarded as safe by the FDA (1) when properly administered (see Dosage). In fact the FDA find no health hazards or side effects with the use of this supplement in normal healthy individuals.
Caution is advised in as risk groups which include those with:
✓ Sensitive cardiovascular systems
✓ Kidney disease
✓ Anxiety or panic disorders
Toxicity of the substance has been tested and did not induce issues at doses of 500mg-2000mg per kg of bodyweight (1,52). These toxicological findings were supported by results of animal autopsies which showed no change to any organs following high dose of guarana (27, 53).
Furthermore, even prolonged consumption of guarana daily caused no severe adverse reactions or haematological and biochemical changes (54) in healthy volunteers of both sexes.
Certain groups should not take guarana at any stage, and these groups include those:
✓ History of arrhythmia, Breast feeding, GI obstruction, Chronic headache, Psychiatric disorders and Gastric ulcers. (9,11,55-56)
Therapeutic doses ranging from 200 – 3000mg per day (1), however doses as low as 2-3mg/ kg are effective at improving performance (56).
Short-term treatment of fatigue, exhaustion and headache relief take 1600mg-2000mg per day (1)
Pregnant patients should take less than 300mg of guarana daily if required at all (1)!
Daily oral intake should not exceed 3 grams (9,4).
Take Home Message
From the depths of the Amazon basin comes a caffeine-filled super supplement which boosts health and enhances performance. This herbal solution extracted from the plant is safe and effective, as long as guidelines are not exceeded, giving you more stimulation than your average cup of coffee.
A great substitute to add to a pre-workout to burn more fat and keeping going in the gym. Listen to the Brazilians, and give it a go!
Many thanks, Chris Tack.